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ARPA funded KalHaven Trail State Park project gets underway July 17

A section of the Kal-Haven Trail State Park – a 33.5-mile-long trail connecting Kalamazoo with South Haven – will close Monday, July 17, through at least early 2024 for enhancements that include resurfacing and bridge replacements, among other upgrades.

Throughout the duration of this project, the 14-mile trail section between South Haven and Bloomingdale will remain closed. The eastern half of the trail – from Bloomingdale east to the 10th Street trailhead in Kalamazoo – will remain open and available for use.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently announced this enhancement project, which is made possible thanks to a proposed $6 million in federal relief funding.

“This section of trail has not had any major maintenance or improvements since it was constructed over 30 years ago, but the American Rescue Plan Act funding allows us to tackle a large-scale project all at one time,” said Tim Novak, state trails coordinator for the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. “Inspections determined that there were major safety concerns with the condition of the bridges and required us to elevate the priority of this project.”

“We know the project will have a temporary impact on surrounding communities and trail users, but the completed infrastructure, surfacing and accessibility improvements will ensure that a beloved recreation destination will be available for future generations to use,” Novak said. “When this critical work is done, Kal-Haven Trail State Park will offer a beautiful, safe, more accessible trail experience for everyone to enjoy.”

Project history

In 2019, the DNR identified the need for improvements and upgrades to this section of the Kal-Haven Trail State Park and allocated funding to begin preliminary design and engineering work. This work included structural inspections of the three bridges along this stretch of trail.

After completing the inspections in August 2022, the DNR prioritized replacement of the three bridges. Given the poor condition of the trail infrastructure, the DNR identified this trail project as among those that would receive a portion of the ARPA funding.

In the months leading up to the project launch, the DNR worked closely with area organizations to best prepare for the closure’s impacts on trail users and local businesses.

“We have been committed to working alongside our community partners on this important trail renovation, and following the recent announcement of the partial trail closure it became clear there were remaining questions – about timing of the closure, bridge replacements and other details – that we needed to clarify for the public,” said Jill Sell, southwest trail specialist for the DNR.

Project timing

American Rescue Plan Act-funded project costs and timelines are estimates based on the most urgent needs in the state parks and recreation system but may be affected by contractor availability and supply chain challenges.

“We did not have a firm start date or timeline for the Kal-Haven Trail enhancement project until we had information from bidders and the bridge manufacturer,” Novak said. “The project timeline would be lengthened considerably if the start date were delayed to the fall, as we cannot complete most of these construction tasks in the ‘off-season’ or winter months. Delaying the start would lead to the trail being closed for the entire summer in 2024.”

“The original construction timeline did decrease from 14 months to six months by deciding to close the trail section in its entirety,” Novak said.

“Alterations of the construction closure plan or delays to the construction plan due to things outside of the DNR’s control will have an impact on the closure duration, potentially increasing it back to 14 months,” he added. “Alterations to the plan could also jeopardize our funding for this project.”

Bridge replacements

The DNR will replace three bridges along the trail, including the Donald F. Nichols Bridge, known as the Black River Bridge.

“The decision to replace the Black River Bridge with an uncovered structure was not made lightly; however, it is necessary due to safety concerns and the need for upgrades,” Novak said. “The Black River Bridge will be replaced with a clear-span, uncovered structure, allowing maintenance equipment, snowmobile trail grooming equipment and emergency vehicles to more easily travel through this area.”

A group of stakeholders, consisting of local business owners and South Haven/Van Buren County Convention and Visitors Bureau representatives, was integral to the decision, meeting several times to discuss the Black River Bridge replacement plan.

Novak said the group decided not to pursue replacing a cover on the bridge at this time, with the two biggest factors being the amount of funding required to cover the bridge, along with the fact that the new cover wouldn’t be a true replica of the existing cover. Looking ahead, though, he said the DNR is committed to further conversations about a separate project to cover the bridge in the future.

After the new Black River Bridge is constructed, an assessment can be done to determine what type of cover could be designed. Depending upon the outcome of the design options, the DNR may be willing to match funding for a portion of a future cover project.

“We heard and appreciate the concerns expressed by community members, and we’re committed to working together in the future on a cover for the bridge,” Novak said.

Also, the materials from the bridge will be removed and stored locally, allowing for future projects to celebrate its community significance.

“The South Haven/Van Buren County Convention and Visitors Bureau and local DNR staff will work together to plan for future, creative uses of the bridge materials,” Novak said.

Additional project details

  • The trail sections that are currently paved asphalt will be replaced as asphalt, while the areas that are limestone aggregate surfacing will remain the same aggregate material. Warning surfaces at intersections will be replaced, and regulatory signage will be updated and replaced as needed.
  • The trailhead parking area on CR 687 (Kibbie) near South Haven will be redone with an improved layout, new aggregate surfacing material, designated parking spots built to Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines and an accessible path from the parking lot to the trail.
  • The 8th Avenue area of trail will be realigned to match up on both sides of the road.
  • The CR 388/Phoenix Road crossing will be straightened to provide an easier crossing for trail users and better visibility for vehicles traveling on the road.
  • The bridge decks will be concrete with an epoxy coating to protect them from snowmobile damage.
  • This project is fully funded with American Rescue Plan Act funds; no private funding is, or has ever been, dedicated toward it. Prior to ARPA, the plan was to fund using various grant sources.

The funding

A total of $250 million in federal relief funding was made available to the DNR in March 2022 to help address a decades-long list of critical needs in state parks and trails and build a new state park in Flint. These American Rescue Plan Act funds are part of a $4.8 billion infrastructure package outlined in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Building Michigan Together Plan.

Follow our progress

To stay up to date on the status of projects and learn more about funding and decision-making, visit where you’ll find:

  • Frequently asked questions.
  • State parks facts.
  • An evolving photo gallery, including many examples of the work needing to be done. As projects are completed, "after" photos will be added.
  • An interactive map identifying proposed project locations and details, including status (proposed, design/bid phase, construction started or project completed) of each project. Please note: This map is specific to ARPA-funded projects; it does not include the variety of other work happening at state parks, trails and waterways.

Questions on this project? Contact DNR state trails coordinator Tim Novak at 517-388-8347.